The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World is a downer of a book that catalogs the massive decline amongst insects. Over the last several decades, nearly every single group of insects from butterflies to beetles, fireflies to bees has been in a downward spiral. Author Oliver Milman is a British journalist that has traveled extensively to document what has been referred to as an insect apocalypse.
Milman does a wonderful job of detailing the importance insects have on our environment. From food production to recycling dead matter, these tiny creatures are constantly at work making our world livable. Bugs are most often despised, but in reality, if we did not have a world of insects we would be in major trouble.
Insect decline directly impacts bird populations. Even birds traditionally associated with eating seeds, feed their young insects. Of all the typical reasons for declining numbers of birds, insects are rarely mentioned other than general “habitat degradation/destruction”. As a birder, this adds another degree of seriousness to this looming disaster.
The Insect Crisis gets a bit overwrought with the onslaught of insect facts and studies. It would be easy for readers to get lost in the weeds if you weren’t already interested in insects. Even the most interesting chapters, those on bees and monarch butterflies, tended to go a bit long.
One of the bigger issues discussed is the battle of environmentalists and farming. Agriculture uses lots of land to produce food and this will only increase as the world’s population grows. Productive farming is largely the reason that countries like the United States has thrived.
But when small farmers feel under attack, the movement for conservation loses. The real fight is against the massive farming conglomerates that have been ruining family farms for decades. These need to be dealt with and we need to find ways to revert back to more traditional rural lifestyles. Anyone with a modest piece of land, rural or suburban, can improve it for wildlife.
“‘We need to develop a cultural appreciation of wildlife that’s equivalent to art and music.'”Lincoln Bower, Monarch Butterfly expert
The chapter on pesticide usage is frightening but also an area where regular people could help out immediately. Americans are obsessed with large, manicured lawns with zero weeds and constant cuttings. We have been conditioned to spray to control weeds and also waste a lot of water keeping this mono-culture of grass green. We need to stop that. A much wilder landscape at home would do wonders at increasing insects and the critters dependent on them.
This is how the book mostly concludes. We don’t necessarily need to try and preserve astronomical acreage. Or construct some sort of facility to breed insects. The amount of good we can do right now by simply stopping the harmful stuff we are doing is astounding. Of course, we still need to protect large-scale areas of habitat. But we can also do innovative things such as rooftop gardening in large cities.
The hardest part to accomplishing this is changing people’s attitudes; a cultural shift needs to happen. But culture can take decades to shift.
It will take more than books like The Insect Crisis to bring about this change. It may also require a more positive tone to reach this cultural shift, something environmentalists struggle with. But we owe it to the environment, our environment, to work relentlessly at preventing an insect apocalypse. Otherwise we really are in dire straights.
See Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants for wonderful information on how to make your yard natural and full of wildlife.
The Xerces Society is a wonderful resource for invertebrate conservation.
Monarch Butterfly Fund is another great organization, focused solely on the beloved monarch butterfly.
The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires That Run the World by Oliver Milman
Published: January 1, 2022
W.W. Norton Company